Social media's impact on modern protests

Social media's impact on modern protests

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Protests and fights for change are nothing new for the Capitol City. In 1953, local civil rights activist Rev. T. J. Jemison organized the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, two years before the more famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. It would be followed by many other shows of peaceful protests.

"We were still having white only signs on the buses, and lunch counters. It was a state of massive segregation in the 1960s," recalled Ronnie Moore.

New Orleans-born Ronnie Moore served as the Louisiana field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, organizing protests and other progressive efforts like voter registration drives in the 1960s.

"It was focused in terms of what goals we were trying to achieve. We were trying achieve the goals of desegregating the state and win the right to vote," said Moore.

In the 63 years since, the fundamentals of social movements, including persuasion, engagement and communication, haven't changed. However, social media has given the activist of the current generation a tool that Moore couldn't have imagined decades ago. Moore said their protests were only effective when they were publicized, but they were only publicized when civil rights workers were attacked.

In this day and age, protesters only need a smart phone to reach an audience of thousands.

"Thousands of citizens have now become potential Ida B. Wells or Mamie Till Mobley in their ability to distribute videos of police overreach or other racially charged incidents going on across the country," said Bryan McCann.

McCann is an assistant professor who teaches communication studies at LSU. That means he specializes in how people talk about things like race, gender politics, crime and social movements.

He explained that social media allows demonstrators to communicate much faster than in years past, spreading their messages and plans around the globe in seconds, and engaging people like never before.

Researchers from NYU observed similar trends during the Ferguson protests.

That effect has been seen in Baton Rouge over the last week. The Alton Sterling case had the attention of the nation within 24 hours. Protests began immediately, and soon images and videos went viral. As more groups joined in, things at time turned chaotic as different ideas and goals collided.

McCann said some protesters are focused on an immediate result of seeing the Alton Sterling case move forward. Others, he said, are focused on a larger, long term goal of reforming the justice system or police tactics.

While the efforts may seem disorganized as they play out now, McCann drew a comparison to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

"I believe the fact that we have mainstream figures and radical figures, clergy and secular activist working simultaneously, even if they're not working side by side, is actually in the best interest of what's happening," McCann said.

Observing recent protests, Moore said social media has made it harder to ignore or hide injustice. However, he said some things remain the same. The activist believes the ballot and voting are still vital to creating long term change.

"This is the time for us to pray and change and remain steadfast in the pursuit of justice," Moore said.

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